Monday, October 6, 2008

Over the hill MBA students

Business Week has a story this week on MBA students over the age of 40. While no precise statistics are available, 40-49 year-olds only account for 4% of those who take the GMAT used for most MBA admissions.

I think — fueled by the efforts of the colleges profiled — too much emphasis is given to the supposed benefit of three little letters on the resume for career switching. Of course, any b-school prof will tell you this credentialing is the main goal of the typical under-30 full-time MBA student.

My first semester at SJSU, I had my first student that was over 40, but he’d been a CFO and was then CEO of a small company. (Now president of a larger company). His motive was not to punch his ticket, but to actually learn something, in particular, new ways of thinking about problems he’d already seen.

That seemed to me the most realistic plan: if two decades of work experience doesn’t get you a good job, the marginal benefits of the TLA will be small. However, it’s realistic that anyone without formal business education can learn to do his or her job better or smarter.

2 comments:

Mike Demler said...

Over the Hill? Ouch!

I can attest to the benefits of MBA studies for "more mature" students, however. My experience here in hi-tech Silicon Valley is that marketing groups are frequently populated by engineers (like myself) with no formal training in marketing or hi-tech management. Having the opportunity to study those topics in depth was very beneficial to me.

Joel West said...

Mike,

Good to hear from a satisfied SJSU customer. :-) I know from your classroom performance that you're someone who wants to learn.

If someone has a way to apply such learning in their career, then getting an MBA at any age makes sense as long as there's a long enough period (or low enough price) to get an ROI.

The 40+ crowd should not hope that just adding "MBA" to their resume will change their life, because I expect that would be very rare. The logical consequence of emphasizing learning over the credential is that the older student needs to pay attention: if learning is the goal, then just showing up won't help.

Joel